Did You Hear That?
If Not, Turn It Up!
Site, smell, taste, touch, and … sound! Well, hearing, but you get what I mean by the five human senses. Sound is one of the most important elements of video and everyday life. Imagine driving through a busy city in heavy traffic and not hearing a single sound. No horns to give you a warning of possible collisions of overly-stressed impatient drivers, no sound of blaring sirens from an ambulance or fire truck rushing toward an emergency. Imagine going to an EDM concert without any sound. It would just be a giant outdoor concert filled with half-dressed lunatics jumping up and down throwing out their elbows. Imagine being on vacation where you can’t hear the crazy antics of your in-laws. Actually… that last one might be a blessing. But sound is important!
Batman and Sound
In high school I had a really cool experiment done on my fellow classmates and I involving sound. The psychology department came in to my block [English & Humanities combined] class to use us for a study. A clip from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was played. The scene chosen was “The Joker’s Car Chase” where the trucks transporting Harvey Dent are fooled in to driving down to the lower level of the streets from an on-fire fire truck (lol… irony) where they are ambushed by the Joker and his crew on the opposite lane with machine guns and a bazooka. [R.I.P Heath Ledger]. The Joker’s first and second bazooka shots hit a squad car in front of the transportation GPD (Gotham Police Department) truck carrying the Joker’s target, Harvey Dent. As the Joker is loading his third round into his bazooka, Batman shows up driving super fast into the garbage truck and takes out some bad guys. He hits the brakes, turns around, and starts driving super fast toward the Joker to save Harvey Dent and Gotham PD. Just as the Joker fires off the last round of his bazooka, Batman hits his boosters and flies right into the path of the bazooka and takes the hit in his Batmobile – thus, saving Harvey Dent.
For this experiment, the Psychology students played the clip twice separating us into two halves of our 80-person classroom. The first half listened to the clip muted without any sound and then were passed a piece of paper to answer the question, “How fast was Batman driving?” The second half (my half) listened to the same clip over again but with the sound turned on loud and proud. We then got a half-piece of paper with the same question to answer- “How fast was Batman driving?” The results were calculated and came out to an interesting conclusion. The first half that listened on mute had an average answer of 50mph. The second half that listened with sound answered an average of 85mph. The conclusion of the “Sound Experiment” was this: “Without sound, we misjudge the actions and reality of what we see with our eyes. With sound, we can more accurately interpret these same surroundings.” Pretty much when it comes to film making, sound is just as important as the visuals: They are each others better half.
To continue onward our voyage of sound and it’s importance, lets directly relate this to film making. Sound is so important it can literally make or break a film. Sound can even change the meaning of a scene or the emotions that scene conveys. The audience may even completely miss what the director meant to communicate if the sound doesn’t match the scene. Now, for some comedic learning of this topic… I give you, “How Music Can Change A Scene”, Lord of the Rings edition.
(Watch the first 31sec to hear the original score. Then skip to 2:09 for a good laugh)
As you can hear, sound can do a lot for a film. Having gorgeous shots and editing beautifully is very important in film; but so is sound. Understanding the content you are creating and its overall meaning will help you develop the perfect sound to fit your film. Is it sad and dark? Is it happy? Inspirational? Humorous? Fast or slow? Modern or old? Understanding the content will help you to not just throw a random track on top of an edited film to make it a terrible “music video” of fluff.
Types of mics:
Apart from music when it comes to sound, there is the actual audio. When filming you have tons of options for capturing audio and for the style of your recording. You need to ask yourself before you start, “Will this be filmed inside or outside? Is there going to be a lot of ambient noise? Wind? Is the subject mobile?” etc. Depending on your setup and subject you have lots to choose from.
On camera audio (please NEVER do this)
Plug in directly, hopefully with an XLR connection.
Shotgun mics (unidirectional-records sound from one direction)
Lavalier mics (lapel mics)
Condenser mics (usually found in studios-great for vocals and instruments)
*not every type listed above
And then within each of these classes of microphones you sometimes have the option to buy one with a large or small diaphragm. Large diaphragm mics usually pic up sound in a more rich way making it a “larger than life” sound. Small diaphragm mics are true to sound and pick up whatever it is you are recording exactly the way it is. Both are great, and both serve a purpose. There are many types of microphones, many ways to record, and many levels of quality. Don’t cheap out when it comes to audio. High quality microphones make a huge difference when it comes to recording. If you buy cheap mics, you will hear it. If you buy quality mics, you will also hear it- in a good way. Let audio be the master of your film and it will enhance all of your work.
Remember: Stay calm, and sound on.
The human voice is most prominent around 2,000Hz for frequency. So when you are adding music on top of someone talking, step 1 is obviously lowering that music so you can hear the audio of the person talking, but step 2 is this:
Go to your Parametric Equalizer for the music track, go to the 2K level and drop it down a bit. The actual volume of the track will not change but since the 2K level is dropped, the human voice will come through stronger in a more natural way.